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Bruce Lehrmann arriving at the Federal Court of Australia in Sydney today. Alamy Stock Photo
Bruce Lehrmann

Former staffer loses defamation suit as judge finds he raped woman in Australian parliament

The judge threw out Bruce Lehrmann’s defamation suit against Network 10 television after it broadcast an interview with his alleged victim, Brittany Higgins.

AN AUSTRALIAN JUDGE has ruled that a former conservative political staffer likely committed rape in parliament, a dramatic twist in a case that sparked national protests.

The judge threw out a defamation suit brought by the former staffer, Bruce Lehrmann, against Network 10 television after it broadcast an interview with his alleged victim, Brittany Higgins.

Federal Court Justice Michael Lee made his finding on the balance of probabilities, as required in civil cases. In a criminal case, a conviction must be proven beyond reasonable doubt.

“Mr Lehrmann raped Ms Higgins. I hasten to stress; this is a finding on the balance of probabilities,” the judge said.

“Mr Lehrmann remains a man who has not been convicted of any offence, but he has now been found, by the civil standard of proof, to have engaged in a great wrong,” Lee said.

Higgins has alleged that Lehrmann raped her on a couch inside the national parliamentary office of a government minister following a night of heavy drinking in March 2019.

Lehrmann has stridently maintained his innocence and has not been convicted of any criminal offence.

A criminal case against him on a charge of sexual intercourse without consent ended in a mistrial in October 2022.

A courtroom sheriff had discovered a jury member with an academic paper on sexual assault – a document prohibited by the trial’s strict rules.

Prosecutors decided not to retry the criminal case over concerns that the public scrutiny could have a grave toll on Higgins’ mental health.

In her interview with Network 10, Higgins did not name Lehrmann, but claimed he was identifiable.

But the defamation case failed because of the judge’s finding that the allegations were likely true.

“Having escaped the lion’s den Mr Lehrmann made the mistake of coming back for his hat,” Lee said.

The allegations first came to light through media reports in early 2021 and – on the back of the global #MeToo movement – sparked nationwide protests and multiple damning investigations into Australia’s political culture.

© AFP 2024